U.S. servicemen fold the American flag after it was lowered during the a handover ceremony of a military base in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Dec. 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A U.S. government watchdog says more than $200 million was wasted on a program to train the Iraqi police force, with security concerns and a lack of interest by the Iraqi government the main culprits for the program's shortcomings.
In an audit released Monday by the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, or SIGIR, auditors also said the Police Development Program faced challenges at the outset due to the lack of an assessment of Iraqi police force capabilities, and of a written commitment from the Iraqi government for the program to move forward.
Stuart W. Bowen Jr., who as inspector general leads the SIGIR office, signed the report that was sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Embassy in Iraq.
The purpose of the program is to help Iraqi police services develop the capabilities needed to lead, manage and sustain internal security and the rule of law. The State Department is hoping to reach those goals by 2016.
A major cornerstone of the program was to be frequent and regular contact between U.S. advisers and Iraqi government officials. But the withdrawal of U.S. forces removed a "security blanket" allowing advisers to travel freely around Iraq, the report says. It remains unsafe for Police Development Program advisers to travel to training facilities on a regular basis.
The program was transferred to Pentagon oversight from the State Department in 2004 due to the deteriorating security conditions in the country at the time. The State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs resumed oversight in October of last year, just before all U.S. forces pulled out of the country in December.
Analysts who have read the report say it blames some of the program's shortcomings on the dangerous security situation between 2004 and 2008 in Iraq.
"Security was the buzz word, security is what got programs funded, and security was going to be what let us leave Iraq" with a fully functioning Iraqi police force left behind, Stephanie Sanok with the Center for Strategic and International Studies told CNN.
The United States has spent about $8 billion to train, staff and equip police forces since 2003, the report says
The United States was forced to close a training and housing facility in Baghdad just months after the police training program began because of security concerns and program revisions. The cost for the facility was estimated at $108 million. The report refers to the expenditure as "de facto waste." In addition, it says a separate training facility in the southern city of Basra, costing an additional $98 million in State Department funds, will not be used. The Iraqi government decided to terminate training at the facility.
"An overarching question is why expensive construction was initiated at both of these facilities without a formal programmatic agreement in place at the time construction began," auditors wrote in the report
The report also highlights a "lukewarm" reception to the program by the Iraqi government.
"In May 2012, the deputy minister of the interior told SIGIR that the (Police Development Program) was 'useless' and that the (Iraqi government) did not need the large numbers of PDP advisors currently in-country," the auditors wrote. "He also indicated that Iraqi police officers had expressed their opinion that the training received to date was not beneficial."
"It really was misstep after misstep, (the United States) didn't actively engage the Iraqis then," said Sanock, who worked in the embassy in 2008 and 2009. "When governments changed, when players changed, they didn't get the buy-in of the new folks, and it was really an imposition of the U.S. mindset on the Iraqi government that just was never going to work."
Among the other findings in the report, auditors said the program has been significantly downsized from the ambitious size once envisioned.
Initially the program called for 350 advisers who would be able to fly throughout the country, but the number was quickly reduced to 190 advisers who would be based in Baghdad, Basra, and Erbil. Further program changes and funding uncertainties have reduced the number of advisers for the program to 36. Eighteen are stationed in Baghdad and 18 in Erbil.
Safety and security requirements for the program are also eating significantly into its operating costs. As of March 31, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs said, about 94 percent of funds obligated for Police Development Program operations had been for security and life and mission support costs.
With the downsizing of the program, SIGIR said, available funding exceeds current costs. The audit estimates that $118.2 million in unused funds for 2010 and 2011 are available to the program. That figure may be sufficient to meet remaining program costs for the current fiscal year budget, which SIGIR estimates to be less than $100 million.
But it is unclear how much will be needed to fund program activities in 2013, the report said.
The report recommends the State Department obtain a written agreement with the Iraqi government on the specific type and number of training classes to be provided, along with mutually acceptable locations for conducting the training. It also suggests Congress consider requiring the State Department to provide written certification of Iraqi government "buy-in" for new classes before any additional U.S. money is committed.
The United States will turn over control of the main police training center in Baghdad to the Iraqi government in December. The State Department says that will eliminate static security costs for the site and reduce other personnel costs due to staff reductions. As of March, 954 of the 1,458 Police Development Program personnel in Iraq were housed at the facility, the report said.
Sanok said the report serves as a wake-up call for the State Department.
"My fear is that we may repeat that error with Afghanistan," she said. "I would love for the State Department to have learned from this experience, fix it, but also to not go down this road again in other countries."